FAU Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute Research Professor John Reed and Stephanie Farrington, members of the Cooperative Institute of Ocean Exploration, Research and Technology (CIOERT) just wrapped a two-week week cruise on the NOAA Ship Pisces to study the shelf-edge marine protected areas (MPAs) off the Southeastern U.S.
The research cruise utilizing the UNCW Mohawk ROV was conducted June 7-20, 2019 with scientists from NOAA National Marine Fisheries. Other collaborators included University of North Carolina at Wilmington Undersea Vehicles Program and students from the College of Charleston who assisted with multibeam mapping.
The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC) established eight deep-water Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) along the outer continental shelf off the southeastern U.S. in February 2009 and the Oculina Habitat Area of Particular Concern (OHPAC) in 1984. This cruise was the second cruise of a 3-year grant to document and characterize the benthic habitats, benthic biota, and fish populations within and adjacent to the protected areas within the jurisdiction of the SAFMC.
The crew conducted 33 ROV dives, resulting in a total bottom time of 59 hours, covering 30.7 km, at depths from 50 to 190 meters. A total of 5,773 in situ digital images were taken which included species documentation images (152) and 171 lab images of specimens. 49 benthic invertebrates were collected for genetic analysis, biomedical research, and taxonomy. Five shipboard CTD casts were made and a temperature/depth sensor recorded each ROV dive. The multibeam sonar (ME-70) was used to map seven areas including inside the Oculina HAPC.
The data from this cruise will be combined with previous cruise data collected to characterize and document the habitat, benthic communities, and fish populations within the shelf-edge MPAs along the southeastern U.S. from North Carolina to South Florida. These data establish baseline information to be referenced and compared to future research cruises to identify the long-term health and status of these important ecosystems. These data will be made available to the SAFMC, NOAA Fisheries, NOAA DSCRTP, NOAA CRCP, NOAA Mesophotic Reef Ecosystem Program, and NOAA Marine Sanctuaries to assist management on these habitats and key species.